London Film Festival 2016: WILD

My week has been dominated by wolves and rabbits. I'm working on a poem about David Bowie for an anthology and decided to write about his narration of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. I've been listening to it several times per day and I can't get the wolf's French horns (or the cat's clarinet) out of my head.

I've also been copy editing a book about kindergartens that talks about rabbits and their soothing, patient characteristics and the role they can play in introducing children to empathy, responsibility, respect for life. A friend pointed out that a big ol' buck rabbit they once knew was actually a formidably armed and terrifically strong opponent if required to be: another form of respect. That's the thing about nature, instinct, evolution.

My first film of the London Film Festival, Wild (Germany, 2016, dir. Nicolette Krebitz) brings wolves and rabbits together in a startling manner. Having been 'off cinema' for a little while (due mainly to over-chatty audiences, lip-smacking snacks, rattling ice, egregious straw-sucking, little handheld screens lighting up all over the auditorium) I have been bingeing somewhat over the last few months in an attempt (among other things) to regain my patience and my concentration – both of which have been eroded by social media and the always-connected life). I blame myself for this and am hoping to fix it (or at least jury-rig some workable new configuration).

So I'm seeing five or six films at the festival this week and I'm going to try to write a little something about them all. These won't be reviews per se, just notes about cinema-going. 

I may have been 'off cinema' but I've never stopped loving cinemas and the Curzon Mayfair is one of my favourites. Capacious, elegantly-ceilinged and lushly-draped, it's a wonderfully generous and seductive temple to film.

It's a fair schlep on foot from Bethnal Greeen but I love this part of London with its narrow corners and comely cluster of restaurants and pubs. It may get crowded on a Friday night but there's usually a table free upstairs at The Kings Arms (where I dropped in for a post-film snifter and to make some  notes).

It's always tricky deciding which films to see at the London Film Festival. You don't want to go for films that will get a big release anyway; you don't want to have to rush across town from cinema to cinema at rush hour; there are 245 of them showing in only 12 days (to see them all you'd need to see around 20 per day!) I tend to go by language (Italian and Romanian being my main interests at the moment) or by judicious browsing on the BFI website. I came across Wild in their Female Filmmakers Discovery Pass section (I'm also going to see Dearest Sister from this list) and the synopsis grabbed me:

On her way home from her uninspiring office job, Ania catches sight of an untamed wolf on the outskirts of the city. For a brief moment they lock eyes and the wolf’s gaze instantly changes Ania’s life. The young woman who seemed to have accepted the insignificance of her own existence is overwhelmed by a sensual longing for this wolf. She becomes obsessed with the wild and beautiful animal, and ruthlessly determined in her desire to domesticate it. 

The film starts with Ania in a kind of plain contemporary Hell: a grey landscape, a grey office job, and a classic office arsehole for a boss who treats her with contempt and condescension. She's hardly 'Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita' but, like Dante, she does encounter a wolf in her path (but no leopard): an apparition from another reality, another nature, another way of being alive. And she is transfixed and transformed, her life incrementally unravelling (or evolving) in extreme and defiant ways.

There are early glimpses of her latent anarchism, of her coiled, repressed energy, such as her regular trips to the shooting range. For me, this wolf feels like a primordial bullet coming right back at Ania, ricocheting off a facet of her character she's been repressing until now.

In Lives Beyond Us, I wrote an essay about the dogs in Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle and mentioned how I like to 'collect' dog 'performances' from films. The wolf in Wild may top them all; it's an extraordinary presence and performance and the filmmakers have the good sense to keep it as enigmatic and non-readable as possible. [Edit: I've just learned that two wolves are credited].

There's something of a Ted Hughes poem about this animal: it absolutely is what it is and no more: pure wolf from nose to tail. As such, it becomes a kind of screen itself, onto which we can project any number of private, sexual, or political allegories. The film-animal it most reminds me of is the half-wolf, half-husky from John Carpenter's The Thing (spookily silent and still until it erupts into heart-stopping, mind-twisting otherness).

Ania tracks down the wolf (hanging expensive supermarket steak from tree branches) and eventually leashes it and attempts to live with it in a tower block apartment. The two creatures, woman and wolf, grow ever-closer and there are extraordinary sequences of Ania and the wolf at large and in the apartment.

The scenes of Ania being tugged through the muddy landscape, drinking dirty water next to the wolf (their two heads touching) are mesmerising and reminded me of passages from The Man Who Fell to Earth (I've been on a bit of a Nic Roeg binge recently, too, and Krebitz and Roeg do seem to share a visionary courage). 

The scenes in the apartment are, ironically, unhemilich and the plight of the wolf trapped in a domestic setting, along with the plight of the actress becoming so intimate with a dangerous animal make for extremely unsettling viewing. At one point, Ania brings two rabbits home to share the apartment: it doesn't end well.

Along with the main thrust of the story, there are sub-plots involving Ania's dying grandfather; a Situationist art project she embarks upon; and the strange relationship she strikes up with the aforementioned arsehole boss (who proves to be, in fact, an interesting character: a little like Mark Rutland in Hitchcock's Marnie).

I can't believe that I haven't even mentioned Little Red Riding Hood or The Company of Wolves yet! You can get a glimpse of the film from the trailer here . . .  A much better response to the film than mine can be found at the Sundance Review.

Warning: the film includes unsimulated defecation on a desk, which is essential, I'd say, in any film about office life. 

Next up: David Lynch, The Art Life